There’s been so much noise about the dangers of sweeteners and sugar in the last decade. It’s been directly and indirectly linked to all sorts of conditions including obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
As a result, all health enthusiasts are crazy about avoiding sugars at all costs. However, the real question is, is it possible that all these health conditions are caused by the excessive intake of sugars in various forms?
Even more, are sugars really bad for you –after all, sugars are the key source of energy in the body? If so, what types of sugars are bad for you –oh yes, there are various types?
This is what we’ll be looking at in this short, but comprehensive guide to the many sugar types. The goal is to help you identify which sugars are dangerous, and those that aren’t, as well as suggest the various quantities in which they should be taken so that your body uses it all up and without developing any of the popular sugar-triggered health conditions.
Therefore, This Guide Will Be Split Into various sections:
- Popular sugars
- Various types of liquid sweeteners
- Healthy alternatives for all common sugars
Our hope is that at the end of this guide, you would be able to make healthier sugar/sweetener choices, using this information we’ve provided in this guide. That said, let’s jump right in:
Popular and Frequently Used Sugars and Their Sources
Beet sugar is currently one of the world’s most popular sources of sugar. It is responsible for at least twenty percent of global sugar production and consumption and 54 percent of domestically consumed sugars in the US.
It is made from the roots of the sugar beet plants which is usually rich with sucrose. The sucrose is then extracted from there and processed. The result is the white granulated sugar that’s commonly consumed by most people.
So, whenever you’re scooping a teaspoonful of sugar, know that it’s from sugar beet plants. Some popular sugar brands made from sugar beets include Big Chief Sugar, Western Sugar, Crystal Sugar, Sprekels Sugar, and Holly Sugar.
Brown sugar is simply sucrose with added molasses. Sugars with darker shades of brown typically contain more molasses than those with lighter hue. This can either be slightly refined or unrefined.
It is a product of sugar cane and is usually considered a healthier option courtesy of its slight mineral content and nutritional value. It also adds flavors to foods and can be used in place of maple sugars.
It has slightly less calorie content than its white counterpart –usually 10 calories less per 100g. It is said to have healthy benefits such as menstrual cramps relief and anti-aging properties.
But, these have no scientific backing yet. Sure, it can act as a scrub given its abrasive nature and slightly bigger crystals. But that doesn’t mean that it has any skin related benefits.
This is also a source of the white granulated sugar. The sugar cane plant is harvested and processed to produce granulated sugar. The sugar products tend to have more flavor and color, compared to the one produced by sugar beet. Consumed in significant amounts, it is capable of causing hyperglycemia –high blood sugar levels.
People who consume this sugar in excess and for a prolonged period tend to develop insulin resistance, a condition that precedes diabetes, become overweight or obese and even develop high blood pressure because of its ability to increase LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.
If you’ve ever used sugar with fine texture whose crystals aren’t quite as big as refined sugars or as fine as icing sugar –think of it as being somewhere in between granulated sugar and icing sugar in texture- then you’ve used castor sugar.
Also known as “superfine sugar” because of its less coarse texture, this easily mixes with anything it’s applied to. It’s usually added to drinks, baked goods and other foods. It’s usually more expensive that regular granulated or even brown sugar.
Caster sugar also goes by other names like caster sugar, berry sugar, ultrafine sugar, instant dissolving sugar, fruit sugar, bar sugar and 10X icing sugar.
While popular, date sugars aren’t actually refined as they are made from dates. Technically, they aren’t sugars seeing as they are products of a fruit. They are considered as an alternative natural sweetener that can be added to foods and recipes.
The only downside is that it doesn’t dissolve in drinks. This doesn’t mean it won’t sweeten the drinks. So, if you don’t mind washing off the dates at the bottom of your cup or mug after your drinks, you can add it to your beverages.
Dates purchased from stores are usually pricey –and those tend to be questionable seeing as some of them don’t have that rich brown color. The good news is you can make your own date sugars at home if you prefer.
Turbinado Or Demerara Cane Sugar
Originally manufactured in Demerara, Guyana, this sugar gets its name from the location where it was first made before being exported to and produced in other parts of the world e.g. India, and Mexico.
A somewhat large, amber colored sugar, this is different from brown sugar because it’s the first product of sugar cane processing. This is why it is considered a pure unrefined/partly refined crystallized sugar.
Brown sugar is usually just white sugar mixed with molasses and heated to give it the distinct color. Demerara sugar has a pleasant toffee/caramel taste, making it flavorful. It’s called Turbinado in certain markets and countries because it is processed in turbines.
Sweet fruits like apples, strawberries, grapes, oranges, pineapple and watermelon tend to contain healthy amounts of this sugar. This natural fructose is healthy and has no side effects. The fructose you ought to be wary of is the artificial one.
You know how when you look at packaged foods and drinks only to see fructose as the sweetener? Well, this one is different from the one available in plants.
The commercially available and ubiquitously used fructose is gotten from corn syrup or enzymatically treated glucose. So, when you take this fructose in the hopes that you’re taking healthy sugar, you’re actually hurting yourself.
You see, artificial fructose is primarily processed and broken down in the liver. Taken in moderate quantities, the liver will break them down effectively without undue stress.
But, when this is taken in significant quantities, the liver in a bid to stay healthy and quickly break it down, doesn’t break it down completely. It breaks some down, and converts the rest into fat. This is why fructose can make you fat too.
These fatty deposits can also elevate your bad cholesterol levels, hence increasing your risk of developing heart disease and other heart related conditions.
Other effects of consuming fructose in high quantities include high uric acid volume in the blood, a condition that can result in the formation of crystals in the joints, thus resulting in gout, kidney stones and kidney failure.
Glucose, a simple sugar, is a product of the chemical breakdown of sucrose. Carbs are the major source of glucose, which is important in the functioning of your body. Your body requires decent amounts of glucose to fuel your cells which in turn carry out their functions in your body.
Glucose in your blood is what is often referred to as blood sugar. Taken in recommended quantities, you have no problems. When your blood sugar is low, you develop hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and when it’s high, you develop what is known as hyperglycemia.
While the first can be fixed by simply eating a meal or getting your insulin injection (if you’re diabetic), the latter is far more lethal. High blood sugar typically results in insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and a host of other health problems.
This is why you need to keep your glucose consumption in check. Sources of glucose include refined sugar, milk, potatoes, soda and other sugary drinks (fruit juices included), and white flour foods.
Eat these in very moderate quantities. This way, your blood sugar won’t spike, and you will never have to suffer any health complications arising from excess glucose intake.
Gur, Panela or Palm Jaggery
This sugar which goes by so many names is made from a combination of cane juice, palm sap and dates, and is an unrefined, organic, natural sweetener.
It’s usually rich in molasses, and contains 50 percent sucrose, 20 percent glucose and fructose, 20 percent moisture and 10 percent of fiber, bagasse fibers, proteins and wood ash.
In Asia, it is often mixed with milk, coconuts or peanuts to produce certain delicacies. Unlike refined sugar that’s available in grains, these are available in blocks or chunks and are either left as is or molded in cups or containers whose shapes they assume.
They are also available as spread. But does this make it a healthier option? No. According to one study, Jaggery was ranked second after glucose on the glycemic index (GI) list containing glucose, sucrose and honey.
This means it isn’t advisable for people looking for low GI sweeteners and therefore, cannot be substituted as a healthy alternative to sucrose.
Khand, Khandsari or Muscovado
This brown sugar is graded between partially refined to completely unrefined. It owes its light to deep brown color to the abundance of molasses, and is considered healthier because of its mineral content. India is Khand’s biggest exporter and consumer.
It is made from sugar cane juice, which is heated until the moisture evaporates, leaving the crystalline brown sugar. It dissolves well in drinks and is considered a healthier option to refined sugars or sucrose.
Refined, Granulated or Table Sugar
This is the most popular sugar in the world. It’s usually white, and has no discolorations. This is often due to the bleaching process involved in its production. It is usually gotten from sugar beets and sugar cane.
The granules can vary in thickness depending on the brand/manufacturer, and varying from thick coarse granules to superfine sugar to ultrafine sugars used in confectioneries. This is the sugar you are advised to run away from at all times if you want to avoid diabetes and all its associated conditions.
Various Types of Liquid Sweeteners
There are so many liquid sweeteners available in the market. Some of these are great as alternatives while others aren’t. In this section, we’ll be looking at some of the top and popular liquid sweeteners as well as the possible health implications of taking them.
Barley Malt Syrup
Take some malted barley, cook it slowly, and the result is what is known as Barley Malt Syrup. This is usually used to add some malty flavor to bagels, confectioneries, malt drinks and cereals.
So, whenever you’re drinking or eating any malt flavored fluid or food, chances are you’re actually tasting this malt syrup. The good news is that it’s not as sweet as refined sugar. The bad news is that you may have to use more quantities if you want to make the food, drink or snack sweet.
This means that your blood sugar levels may end up being just as high as when you take refined sugar. So, to get the benefits, you should only take small amounts… enough to slightly sweeten your drinks or foods.
Made from organically grown Carob, this is an amazing refined sugar alternative. It is also a good substitute for chocolate, and has been approved by the FDA.
This sweetener is rich in minerals and vitamins and registers lower on the glycemic index chart with 50 percent less sugar per 100g than refined sugar. It can also be added to cereals, cookies and cakes.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
This is popularly used by food companies as a sweetener for cereals, cookies and soda. Unfortunately, most people assume that it’s healthy because it’s of the name fructose – simple sugar. This is not true.
While the fructose from fruits is natural and healthy, high fructose corn syrup is usually produced from corn. Sometimes, the corns used are genetically modified (GMO), which further increases their odds of triggering someone’s allergies. This is a high glycemic sweetener, and should be used in moderation, if at all.
Commonly used as an alternative to white sugar, this is an amazing food with so many benefits. This is primarily rich in antioxidants, and is sourced directly from bees. While its glycemic index isn’t as high as that of refined sugars, it is sweet enough to trigger high blood sugar when consumed in excess quantities.
So, just take honey in smaller quantity –often times, the small quantity will provide the desired amount of sweetness. Darker honey typically contains more particles and has a stronger flavor than the lighter ones. It is best used by adults and older children (4+ years) as younger children (1-3yrs) and infants can become sick from its consumption.
This is commonly spread over pancakes, flour products, cereals and added to drinks like tea and coffee. It is used as an alternative sweetener in place of refined sugar.
You’ll find different grades of maple syrup –from the light colored and flavored Grade AA to the darker colored and heavily flavored Grade C. Taste is often dependent on flavor and texture.
Popular Artificial and Natural Sugar Alternatives
There’s a group of sweeteners that have little or no connection with sugars. They taste sweet and are great for adding to drinks, spreading over cereals, bread, and eating. These are the sweeteners we’ll be looking at here:
The agave nectar has its origins in Mexico where it is produced from Agave tequilana -the same plant that’s used in making tequila. This sweetener was once promoted as a healthy alternative to regular refined sugar, honey, and high fructose corn syrup.
That has changed in recent times owing to research and studies showing that it is actually 1.5 times sweeter than sugar, has 35 percent more calories per tablespoon (60 calories) than sugar which has 40 calories per tablespoon, and has a high glycemic index.
This means that it is not healthier than any other sweetener –artificial or natural. Even the popular Dr. Oz denounced the sweetener he once recommended after fresh facts emerged that it was actually harmful and dangerous to health.
This is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol used in multiple food products, the most popular being chewing gums. It is an alternative sweetener that’s easy on the teeth because of its non-fermentable properties.
This contains no fructose and has no impact on your blood sugar levels. With 40 percent less calories than table sugar, a glycemic index of just 7 –that’s like 10 percent of table sugar’s GI- this is safe for consumption, and may even help with reducing body fat. This makes it a safe sweetener for diabetics and those looking to prevent diabetes.
This is a zero calorie sweetener from Japan. So far, the FDA has approved its use in foods, drinks, baked products, jams and other food products, but disallows it from being added to meat or poultry products.
There’s some controversy about this sweetener seeing as it’s a derivative of aspartame –which means it isn’t a natural sweetener- and is about 20,000 times sweeter than table sugar. There are few studies or research about this sweetener, so we wouldn’t recommend its consumption until we know more.
Aspartame has been around for a long time, and is commercially used as a sweetener in soft drinks, fruit juice, candy, cereals and so on. It is a purely chemical sweetener and does nothing for weight loss.
Studies have linked its usage to certain health conditions such as nausea, dizziness, diarrhea blurred vision, stomach disorders, joint pain, energy loss as well as the more severe kidney problems, multiple cancers including bladder cancer and possible brain/ neurological damage.
Studies revealed that aspartic acid – a key compound in aspartame- were responsible for holes in mice. Scientists have described it as the most dangerous sugar substitute. Bottom line, aspartame is very bad for you.
It is sold commercially as AminoSweet, NutraSweet, Equal, Equal-Measure, and Spoonful.
This herb and sweetener is a healthy, natural sugar alternative extracted from the plant, Stevia rebaudiana. It is between 30 and 200 times sweeter than sugar –depending on the plant, which means very little quantities goes a long way.
Its brand names include Truvia, SweetLeaf, Sun Crystals, Stevia in the Raw, PureVia, NuStevia and Pyure. There have been some recent concerns about the process of extraction and the final product that is sold commercially, with some saying the process completely strips off the natural sweetener, replacing it with chemicals, and essentially making it no different than other chemical sweeteners like aspartame.
While this hasn’t been proved scientifically, you may want to research this before using stevia.
Other Sweeteners of Note: Sorbitol, Saccharine, and Erythritol
In conclusion, you can clearly see that there are so many sugar sources, some of them good and bad. If you are ever in doubt about your sweetener, just stick to those from confirmed natural sources. The body wasn’t made to process many of the toxic chemicals disguised as sweeteners. Ultimately, they take their toll on the body and cause considerable damage.
Always make sure to research all intended sweeteners before purchase. With more knowledge and exposure, you can make an informed choice about which sweetener is best for you and your loved ones.